On My Outrageous Friend…

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My Outrageous Friend…

She didn’t know who I was the last time we talked, but she managed to carry on a conversation with this stranger who called to wish her a happy birthday. Now a phone conversation is beyond her grasp.

My friend, my outrageous friend. I may be lost to her; she will never be lost to me. Too many memories, experiences shared. And doesn’t every serious person need an outrageous friend, a window into thinking, behaving, as we thought we never would, but always, covertly, longed to.

Cookie was that for me. We laughed until our sides ached, doubled over with breathless delight. I accepted and cherished her idiosyncrasies that placed her family in paroxysms of fury and sometimes despair. She had a flair for the dramatic, all right, and no compunction about indulging it. Many times I stood beside her, figuratively if not literally, sometimes picking up the pieces. I was happy to do it.

She loved me, that I know. She thought I was wonderful, perfect, smart. Well, who wouldn’t want a friend like that? I confided in her like no other, and she always took my side. I can hear her pithy, salty responses, always delivered in that memorable Baltimore accent. “Well, you know he’s an asshole, don’t you?” “That fucking bitch. I knew it the minute I laid eyes on her. You know she’s just jealous. Can’t stand in your light.” “I can’t stand to be in the same room with him. He makes my skin crawl. I’ll tell him. You want me to tell him? I will. He won’t know what hit him.”

It didn’t matter if it were an affair of the heart, a work issue, or an in-law kerfuffle. She was there, always, and always on my side. As I was for her, throughout her scrapes and tussles with life. She liked living on the edge, and would do what she could to make sure situations turned out that way. I was close, yet far away, enough to look at them with a wry and loving indulgence, and, most times, help her figure out a logical, reasoned exodus even if she seldom took it.

For so many years we lived far apart, as I moved to Chicago and then to North Carolina. We did manage to meet in between every year. Now I wonder why we didn’t do that more often. Our last time together, when she was who she was, we spent hours in a bookstore, going up and down the aisles pointing out books we had read, wanted to read, a reader’s frenzy. We laughed, and I wonder if she knew it would be our last time when we were really together.

She called me when she first received the diagnosis. She cried; this time I had no words or plans that could make it right. I continued to call, not often, but I kept in touch as she became more and more out of touch.

Until this weekend, when the recording said that her phone had been disconnected. I contacted her daughter. “Mom is in a nursing home. She’s happy, well fed. She doesn’t know where she is.”

But, for me, she will always be in my heart.

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